On Friday 3 February 2017, European Union leaders gathered in Malta to address the current crisis of migration from across the Mediterranean
This is a critical issue for both the EU and for the Italian-hosted G7 summit coming up in Taormina, Sicily, on 25 and 26 May. The key question is how well have the EU and its members have used the G7 to control their migration challenge, through their hosting of past G7 summits and by complying with the migration commitments all G7 summits have made?
The G7 has long dealt with migration and refugee crises. At present, most G7 members are particularly affected by the current migrant crisis. The EU, Germany and Italy — three of the most recent G7 hosts — have been affected most pointedly, and continue to play a key role in the world’s response to it. It is therefore no surprise that the G7 will continue to try to be a satisfactory mechanism for responding to the global refugee crisis, as it is in the common interest of G7 leaders to work together. Their dedication to migration-related commitments has been reflected in their high scores in complying with the commitments they make at their annual summits, as assessed by the G7 Research Group.
At the 2014 Brussels Summit, G7 leaders recognised for the first time the severity of the Syrian refugee crisis. They fully complied with the commitment they made there to support Syria’s neighbours bearing the burden of refugee inflows. At the 2015 Schloss Elmau Summit, G7 leaders made seven commitments to address the migrant crisis, including six that addressed trafficking. All G7 members fully complied with the seventh commitment: a bold pledge to tackle the causes of refugee crises around the world.
At Japan’s 2016 Ise-Shima Summit, G7 leaders placed greater priority on the migrant crisis and made an impressive 10 commitments on migration, including increasing global assistance, creating education and employment opportunities, working toward a stabilised Syria and supporting African countries to prevent and resolve conflicts and beyond. Equally striking, the Ise-Shima commitments on migration also covered a wide range of issues: development, human rights, peace and security, and gender equality. Leaders also pledged to offer support to the Libyan Government of National Accord to help restore peace, security and prosperity, and to address humanitarian suffering — a topic that will receive much attention at the EU meeting in Malta.
The EU summit in Malta is an excellent opportunity to continue addressing the migrant crisis ahead of the Taormina Summit. At Malta the leaders addressed external dimensions of migration with a particular focus on the Central Mediterranean route and Libya — key issues that are also on the agenda of the G7. In the first 25 days of January alone, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that 246 migrants and refugees died trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe. Furthermore, of the 181,000 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean in 2016, 90 per cent came from the Libyan coast, allowing traffickers to capitalise on the situation. Over the past three years, 500,000 people have arrived in Italy by boat, and a further 300,000 in Libya are waiting to attempt the dangerous crossing. However, the EU currently has no agreed plans to redistribute those people around Europe or send them back to Libya.
The Malta meeting is an attempt to confront this emergency, as the Financial Times reports. There has been discussion of a refugee deal similar to the one struck with Turkey, but the collapse of the Libyan state in 2011 and the irregular patterns of migration from Africa make the chances of such a deal unlikely. Instead, EU leaders are expected to agree on measures to stem migrant flows, tackle migrant smuggling and save lives. They will discuss increased cooperation with Libyan authorities to train, equip and support the Libyan national coast guard, increase efforts to disrupt smuggling businesses, and improve the socioeconomic situation of local communities. They will also likely call for increased cooperation with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and IOM to ensure adequate reception capacities and conditions in Libya for migrants, enhance information campaigns and step up voluntary return activities.
With a Japan long closed to immigrants, a closing America, an open Canada and a weary Europe, 2017 is an important year to ensure effective progress in supporting refugees and migrants and finding durable solutions to the ongoing crises in Libya, Syria and beyond. At Ise-Shima, G7 leaders agreed that the 2017 Taormina Summit would address the migrant crisis. With the leaders gathering in one of the primary destinations for migrants, the Taormina Summit will clearly be an important moment for G7 leaders to build on the successes of Ise-Shima and make new commitments to tackle the root causes of the migrant crisis. The EU meeting in Malta is a great starting point for ensuring that 2017 is a successful year for refugees and migrants, for their countries of origin, for Europe and for the G7.